10/03/2008 12:00AM

Cal-bred divisional honors remain up in air

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ARCADIA, Calif. - Change has occurred at the top of the California-bred ranks this year.

With the retirement of Lava Man in July and the tragic death of Nashoba's Key in May, there has been a notable void at the top of the statebred divisions. Without them, there have been no standouts, but numerous horses have displayed strong performances in recent months.

This year, four California-breds have won Grade 1 races - Golden Doc A in the Las Virgenes Stakes at Santa Anita in February, Nashoba's Key in the Santa Margarita Invitational at Santa Anita in March, Mistical Plan in the Princess Rooney at Calder in July, and Cost of Freedom in the Ancient Title Stakes at Santa Anita in September.

Over the next three months, particularly in Sunday's California Cup and possibly the Breeders' Cup at Santa Anita on Oct. 24-25, the race for the California-bred horse of the year title will become clearer.

The winners will be decided by a vote of the California Thoroughbred Breeders Association, and the award will be presented early next year.

Here is a glance at the eight statebred divisions, with the three leading contenders for each listed in alphabetical order.

Older male

Cost of Freedom

Cee's Tizzy-Freedom Dance, by Moscow Ballet

Breeder: Harris Farm

Owners: Harris Farm and Gary and Cecil Barber

Trainers: Carla Gaines and John Sadler

McCann's Mojave

Memo-Joni U. Bar, by Nordic Prince

Breeder: Nikki Hunt and Mike Willman

Owner: Mike Willman

Trainer: Steve Specht

Notional

In Excess-Truly Blessed, by French Deputy

Breeder: Vessels Stallion Farm

Owner: Paul Reddam

Trainers: Mark Hennig and Doug O'Neill

The summertime retirement of Lava Man left a void in this division. Then again, replacing a horse that rose from claiming ranks to win seven Grade 1 races in his career is difficult for any regional breeding industry.

There have been several notable accomplishments from others.

Bold Chieftain has won 4 of 7 starts and $327,552, racing well on turf and the main track. He will be favored in Sunday's California Cup Mile, which would be his biggest win of the year.

Cost of Freedom may be peaking at the right time. Claimed for $50,000 at Del Mar on July 28, the 5-year-old gelding has won two subsequent starts for Gary and Cecil Barber and trainer John Sadler - an allowance race at Del Mar on Aug. 9 and the Grade 1 Ancient Title Stakes here on Sept. 27. The latter win assured Cost of Freedom a berth in the Breeders' Cup Sprint here Oct. 25.

The retirements of McCann's Mojave and Notional has cost this division depth.

McCann's Mojave had only 1 win from 5 starts this year, the Grade 3 Berkeley Handicap at Golden Gate Fields in May, and was fourth in the Grade 1 Hollywood Gold Cup. He was in training for the $1 million Pacific Classic at Del Mar when a tendon injury was detected.

Notional won the Grade 3 Salvator Mile at Monmouth Park in July, earning an automatic berth for the Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile on Oct. 25. Unfortunately, a coffin bone injury suffered in the Grade 1 Whitney Handicap at Saratoga ended his career.

Older female

Nashoba's Key

Silver Hawk-Nashoba, by Caerleon

Owner-breeder: Warren Williamson

Trainer: Carla Gaines

Tiz Elemental

Cee's Tizzy-Blending Element, by Great Commotion

Owner-breeder: Warren Williamson

Trainer: Carla Gaines

Mistical Plan

Game Plan-Mistical Bel, by Bel Bolide

Breeder: Carol Anderson

Owner: Paul Reddam

Trainer: Doug O'Neill

Sadly, the title for this category may be awarded posthumously. In late May, Nashoba's Key, the 2007 California-bred horse of the year, was euthanized after suffering a severe leg injury in her stall at Hollywood Park.

At the time, she was returning from a brief vacation following a win in the Santa Margarita Invitational Handicap. She was expected to start in the major stakes for older females this summer.

In her brief 2008 campaign, Nashoba's Key was second in the Sunshine Millions Filly and Mare Turf and won the Santa Margarita.

Mistical Plan had a fine summer, winning the Grade 1 Princess Rooney Stakes at Calder in July and finishing third in the Grade 1 Ogden Phipps Handicap, before she was sidelined by a splint bone injury.

Tiz Elemental, who, like Nashoba's Key, is owned by Warren Williamson and trained by Carla Gaines, has developed into a fine sprinter, winning the Grade 3 Las Flores Handicap earlier in the year. She is a candidate for the BC Filly and Mare Sprint at Santa Anita on Oct. 24.

Lightmyfirebaby is one of several Unusual Heat fillies that have carried the season for trainer Barry Abrams. Lightmyfirebaby, owned by Richard O'Neill, won the Grade 3 Las Cienegas Handicap via disqualification in April and later placed in three other stakes. She was entered in Saturday's Grade 3 Sen. Ken Maddy Handicap.

Tutta Bella and America's Friend, who start in Sunday's California Cup Distaff, can become multiple stakes winners this year with a victory.

Sprinter

California Flag

Avenue of Flags-Ultrafleet, by Afleet

Owner-breeder: Hi Card Ranch

Trainer: Brian Koriner

Cost of Freedom

Cee's Tizzy-Freedom Dance, by Moscow Ballet

Breeder: Harris Farm

Owners: Harris Farm and Gary and Cecil Barber

Trainers: Carla Gaines and John Sadler

Greg's Gold

Lake George-Lake Windermere, by Fit to Fight

Owner-breeder: Bill Boswell

Trainer: David Hofmans

Cost of Freedom is the clubhouse leader, thanks to his win in the Grade 1 Ancient Title Stakes on Sept. 27, but this race is far from complete. Idiot Proof, second in the 2007 BC Sprint, has earned $459,856, but is winless in five starts. He was second or third in four of those races, including a second in the $2 million Golden Shaheen Sprint in Dubai in March. Idiot Proof will make his next start in the BC Turf Sprint on Oct. 25.

Greg's Gold was retired in May after a two-race campaign this year - a second in the Potrero Grande Handicap and a win in the Grade 2 San Carlos Handicap. The latter race put him past $1 million in earnings, a remarkable achievement considering a tendon injury in 2005 nearly ended his career.

California Flag was gelded earlier this year and has performed like a different horse since then, winning 3 of 4 starts. He won the Grade 3 Morvich Handicap on Sept. 24 to gain a berth in the BC Turf Sprint.

Bonfante and Georgie Boy could easily be considered finalists for this category. Bonfante, a hopeful for Sunday's California Cup Sprint, has won three stakes this year, earning $169,388.

Georgie Boy is best known for his success in longer races in the spring, but he did win the Grade 2 San Vicente Stakes over seven furlongs in February. Do not be surprised if Georgie Boy appears in a race such as the $100,000 Damascus Stakes for 3-year-olds over seven furlongs on the Breeders' Cup undercard on Oct. 25.

Turf horse

America's Friend

Unusual Heat-Bel Air Belle, by Runaway Groom

Owner-breeders: Madeline Auerbach, David Abrams, Vincenzo Loverso

Trainer: Barry Abrams

Bold Chieftain

Chief Seattle-Hooked on Music, by Seattle Dancer

Owner-breeders: Ernest Langbein, William Morey, Kenneth Robinson, and Dwaine Hall

Trainer: William Morey

Bel Air Sizzle

Unusual Heat-Bel Air Belle, by Runaway Groom

Breeders: Madeline Auerbach, David Abrams, Vincenzo Loverso

Owners: Madeline Auerbach, David Abrams, Vincenzo Loverso, and Ron McCauley

Trainer: Barry Abrams

Bold Chieftain can solidify his status in this category with a win in Sunday's California Cup Mile. Bold Chieftain has been outstanding on turf this year, winning three stakes - the California Dreamin, March Madness, and Bay Meadows handicaps - and finishing second in the Grade 2 Del Mar Mile to BC Mile hopeful Whatsthescript.

Remarkably, two full sisters - the 3-year-old Bel Air Sizzle and the 4-year-old America's Friend - are in contention for this title. The California Thoroughbred Breeders Association does not have a separate award for female turf horses.

Bel Air Sizzle has yet to win a turf stakes. She finished a troubled second in the Grade 2 Honeymoon Handicap at Hollywood Park in June and second in the Grade 1 Del Mar Oaks, as a 36-1 outsider, in August.

America's Friend has made 13 starts this year, winning four times. The most prestigious of those victories was the Solana Beach Handicap at Del Mar in August.

Lucky J.H. had a limited campaign. After finishing third in the Sunshine Millions Turf and the Crystal Water Handicap, he won the Sensational Star Handicap on the hillside turf course.

Tutta Bella, the winner of the Fran's Valentine Stakes in April, and Mr. Wolverine, who won the Khaled Stakes in April, have not won after those starts.

3-year-old male

Bob Black Jack

Stormy Jack-Mollys Prospector, by Native Prospector

Breeders: Gary and Marlene Howard and Bruce Dunsmore

Owners: Jeff Harmon and Tim Kasparoff

Trainer: James Kasparoff

Georgie Boy

Tribal Rule-Oppodamia, by Peterhof

Owner-breeder: George Schwary

Trainer: Kathy Walsh

Sierra Sunset

Bertrando-Toot Sweet, by Pirate's Bounty

Breeders: Marty and Pam Wygod

Owners: Philip Lebherz, Al Mariani, George Schmitt, and Carol Wirth Trust.

Trainer: Jeff Bonde

These three finalists were on the Triple Crown trail until the spring and then out of training by the summer.

Bob Black Jack set a six-furlong world record of 1:06.53 in winning the Sunshine Millions Dash and then proved he was more than a sprinter by finishing second to Georgie Boy in the San Felipe Stakes and second to Colonel John in the Santa Anita Derby. He did not fare as well in the Kentucky Derby, finishing 16th. Trainer Jim Kasparoff gave him the summer off, with the intent to bring him back for a 2009 campaign.

Georgie Boy was a hopeful for the Santa Anita Derby after his San Felipe win, but was sidelined by a back injury. He returned to training in June and has been brought along slowly by trainer Kathy Walsh. He is likely to win this title on the basis of his wins in the San Felipe and Grade 2 San Vicente Stakes.

Sierra Sunset was brilliant at Oaklawn Park, where he finished second in the Grade 3 Southwest Stakes and won the Rebel Stakes. He was diagnosed with an injury after the Rebel and missed the Arkansas Derby. Trainer Jeff Bonde said earlier this week that Sierra Sunset is nearing a return to light training.

Sunday, Liberian Freighter will be after his first stakes win in the California Cup Mile. Trained by Neil Drysdale, Liberian Freighter was third in three stakes this summer - the Cinema and La Jolla handicaps and a division of the Oceanside Stakes.

3-year-old filly

Golden Doc A

Unusual Heat-Penpont, by Crested Wave

Breeder: David Abrams

Owner: Ron McCauley

Trainer: Barry Abrams

Lethal Heat

Unusual Heat-Lethal Leta, by Synastry

Breeders: David Abrams, Madeline Auerbach, and Tom Roberts

Owners: David Abrams, Madeline Auerbach, Ron McCauley, and Tom Roberts

Trainer: Barry Abrams

Final Fling

Bertrando-Lily La Belle, by Java Gold

Breeder: William Peeples

Owner: Michael House

Trainer: Jeff Mullins

Brothers Barry and David Abrams might as well start for the podium when this category is introduced at this winter's awards banquet. In partnerships, they are the breeders of a trio of fillies - Bel Air Sizzle, Golden Doc A, and Lethal Heat - that have combined to earn more than $1.1 million this year.

Golden Doc A won the Grade 1 Las Virgenes Stakes at Santa Anita in February and later finished second to Ariege in the Grade 1 Santa Anita Oaks and Grade 2 Beaumont Stakes at Keeneland. She was entered in the $400,000 Indiana Oaks at Hoosier Park on Friday night.

Bel Air Sizzle had a solid campaign, highlighted by the second in the Grade 1 Del Mar Oaks.

Lethal Heat has been the most consistent of the group, winning 6 of 9 starts and $426,528. She won three races in March, including the Grade 3 Santa Paula Stakes on March 31, and has since won three more stakes. At Del Mar, she accomplished a unique double, winning two seven-furlong stakes for statebreds - the Fleet Treat Stakes against fillies on July 20 and the Real Good Deal Stakes against males on Aug. 8. She was later third in the Del Mar Oaks.

Of the other prominent 3-year-old fillies, Gambler's Justice won the CTBA Marian Stakes at Fairplex Park last month, and Final Fling won the Grade 3 Santa Ysabel Stakes at Santa Anita in January and later finished third in the Santa Anita Oaks.

Distant Victory, who starts in Sunday's California Cup Distance Handicap, has won 3 of her first 5 starts. She was third in the Torrey Pines Stakes in her stakes debut at Del Mar.

2-year-old male

Babs Moossa

Crowning Storm-Moossa's Girl, by Candi's Gold

Owner-breeder: Halo Farms

Trainer: Jerry Hollendorfer

Lucky Primo

Atticus-Live Free or Die, by Personal Flag

Breeders: Joshua and Jason Litt and Dennis O'Neill

Owners: JBK Stables and Jason Litt

Trainer: Marty Jones

Triumphant Flight

Chullo-Jetinwith Kennedy, by Kennedy Road

Breeder: Applebite Farms

Owner: Tyler Seltzer

Trainer: Eric Kruljac

The 2-year-old divisions may look considerably different by year's end. Then again, Babs Moossa may keep on defying expectations. Risked in a $12,500 claiming race for maidens at the Alameda County Fair in Pleasanton in June, Babs Moossa has since won three stakes - the Solano County Juvenile, Graduation Stakes, and I'm Smokin Stakes. The style of his win in the six-furlong I'm Smokin Stakes, closing from 10th in a field of 11 to win by a head, suggests he may want more ground. The next test comes in Sunday's California Cup Juvenile.

Triumphant Flight is a nose away from being undefeated. He lost the Graduation Stakes by a nose to Babs Moossa and then won the Barretts Juvenile Stakes at Fairplex Park by a convincing three lengths. Look for him to dictate the pace in Sunday's Juvenile, his first start beyond six furlongs.

Lucky Primo is a promising colt. He beat maidens in his second start and then finished a fast-closing third behind Babs Moossa in the I'm Smokin in his stakes debut.

Escalon, sixth in the Grade 1 Del Mar Futurity on Sept. 3, starts in the Cal Cup Juvenile. Frumious, a Grindstone colt, was third to Babs Moossa in the Solano County Juvenile and returned to win a maiden special weight race over five furlongs at Golden Gate Fields on Sept. 21.

2-year-old filly

My Sweet Natalie

Bring the Heat-Our Country Dancer, by Citidancer

Breeder-trainer: Wesley Ward

Owners: Raymond Feldman and Wesley Ward

Streamin Heat

Bring the Heat-Newport Nikki, by Lit de Justice

Breeder-trainer: Wesley Ward

Owner: Richard Ravin

Ten Churros

High Brite-Grana, by Miswaki

Breeder: Harris Farms

Owners: Hal and Patti Earnhardt

Trainer: Bob Baffert

My Sweet Natalie has never run in California, but she has compiled a record of 3 wins in 4 starts and earnings of $111,216 racing at Woodbine and Calder. In her most recent start, she scored a smart win in the Catcharisingstar Stakes over five furlongs on turf at Calder on Sept. 6.

She is trained by breeder Wesley Ward, who is focusing more on East Coast racing this year. Ward does have horses in California and won the CTBA Stakes at Del Mar in July with Streamin Heat. Like My Sweet Natalie, Streamin Heat is by Bring the Heat, who Ward recently said has been moved from California to Florida.

The Bob Baffert-trained Ten Churros is improving. She won the Generous Portion Stakes over six furlongs at Del Mar on Aug. 27 and is bound for the California Cup Juvenile Fillies, her first start in a race other than a sprint.

Ten Churros will be tested by Saucey Evening, who was seventh in the Grade 1 Del Mar Debutante on Sept. 1. Atka, who has placed in two stakes, and Amina, who was third in the Bustles and Bows Stakes at Fairplex Park last month, have hinted that they are capable of winning a stakes for statebreds.